Lean manufacturing delivers huge benefits - from increased productivity to better customer retention and improved employee satisfaction. But how can firms find the inspiration to create the right lean manufacturing setup for their needs? A few handy pieces of advice could set any company in the right direction.
Draw up a value stream map to lead the way
Becoming lean is about stripping away wasteful operations and focusing money and time on matters that will deliver enhanced value. That's why most lean production strategies include a process known as "value stream mapping." This entails mapping every process in the firm and isolating where resources are being wasted. Try to draw up a picture of how energy and money is flowing through your company, and then create another map which will show the ideal end point. With this tool, teams within the organisation can know exactly where waste is occurring and take action to eliminate it.
Staff training is the key to successfully becoming lean
You can have all of the flowcharts, software tools and good intentions in the world, but without effective buy-in from employees and a thorough program of staff training, lean production is hardly possible. Becoming lean requires a comprehensive cultural change within any organisation, so that employees constantly reassess their processes and behaviour, avoiding excess waste and continually refining the way they work. Try organising practical training workshops for manageable team sizes that are led by experienced managers. Relating the goal of leanness to everyday working practices is the easiest way to entrench the right behaviour in any workforce.
Make lean manufacturing a total priority to avoid backsliding
When firms choose to go lean, this should entail fashioning a new business culture. This means that leanness cannot be an afterthought. Make it a central aspect of all employee communications. Give managers specific responsibilities for ensuring that every stage in the production and sales chain is as efficient as possible, and make "being lean" an obligation for all employees, not an optional extra. However, this doesn't mean creating a pressurised atmosphere. Lean production should improve employee and managerial morale, so try to create a situation where individuals don't feel at fault when they are slow to adapt. Try to be patient.
Use the right ERP software to ensure maximum leanness
Having the right software is a vital aspect of any successful lean implementation. Enterprise Resource Planning should be in every lean firm's toolkit - allowing them to easily create value maps, keep track of staff training and ensure that cultural changes don't impact upon product delivery and customer experience. With the right software, you can generate data streams which constantly inform managers where waste is occurring, and how processes are being implemented. Having this data also makes it easier to sell required changes to employees and promotes confidence in the project as a whole. Without the right software in place, lean manufacturing efforts are essentially flying blind.
Lean manufacturing is also a managerial challenge, so have the right teams in place to steer every workgroup in the firm towards a commonly agreed goal. The aim is to have everything working in harmony - from the value mapping system to ERP packages and management structures. With a little patience, the implementation of lean manufacturing can deliver impressive, long-lasting results, so companies looking to become as competitive as possible should explore the benefits that it can deliver.